Speed Up: How To Stop Being A Slow Talker

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Smart Speaking: 60-Second Strategies For More Than 100 Speaking Problems and Fears by Laurie Schloff and Marcia Yudkin.

If your conversational partner has mentally formulated her five-year business plan by the time you finish a sentence, or if your audience is tapping fingers and feet impatiently while you’re finishing the first paragraph of your talk, it’s safe to say you’re too slow.

A colleague told me he recently walked out of a lecture at a conference and demanded the return of his thirty-five dollar registration fee. The reason? He clocked the speaker at ninety words per minute — about half the average speaking speed.

Some slow talkers do everything at tortoise pace, including speaking. Others take great pain with their speech because they believe everything that comes out of their mouth must be correct, perfectly worded, and significant. It’s admirable to care about what you say, but if you speak too slowly, you may be perceived as boring, tired, or less intelligent than you are. To keep people awake and interested, learn to increase your speaking speech without losing articulation and thought clarity.

Smart Speaking Book Cover

1. Learn what makes you slow

Record a one-minute monologue on tape. Use a stopwatch or second hand and listen for the following types of slow spots.

Problem one: Too many words along the way to your point.

“As I was mentioning yesterday when we met with um, ah, Anderson Industries about the takeover negotiations and ah, proceeded to come up with an alternate plan, I told you I’d be getting back you, and so let me introduce our findings by saying…”


“Let me bring you up to date on our talks with Anderson Industries … “

Problem Two: A generally draggy pace, with both words and pauses drawn out. Audiences prefer an average rate of 180 words per minute or even a little faster.

Problem Three: Pauses that are too frequent or too lengthy. Pauses between sentences should not last much longer than two seconds unless you’re consciously pausing to let information sink in or for dramatic effect.

Boring Seminar

2. Try These Speed Up Strategies

For Problem One: To practice getting to the point more quickly, ask yourself an opinion question. Using a stopwatch or second hand, give yourself forty-five, then thirty, then twenty seconds to supply an answer. This is a vital skill for any media appearance.

For Problem Two: To pick up the pace, choose a passage from a magazine or book of about 180 words. Practice reading it aloud, seeing how close you can get to finishing it in one minute without sacrificing meaning or clarity.

For Problem Three: Accept that in most situations it is not necessary to deliver a perfectly shaped gem worthy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Imagine your words pedaling the wheels of a bicycle: if you drop the pace too drastically, you’ll fall over. Practice keeping up momentum while answering questions that you’re posing to yourself for the first time.

This is an excerpt from Smart Speaking: 60-Second Strategies For More Than 100 Speaking Problems and Fears by Laurie Schloff and Marcia Yudkin.